Are we a ‘death-denying’ society? A sociological review

Allan Kellehear*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


There exists in much social science literature on death and dying the traditionally held view that modern societies are ‘death-denying’. In some cases this has been a ‘throw away’ line of minimal importance. Other times, the thesis that we are a death-denying society has taken on the appearance of serious sociological argument. In still other cases, there exists another body of literature which supports this thesis by offering examples of death denial rather than cogent argument. This has amounted to a significant, albeit fragmented, sociological theory of the background of our principle death related behaviours. This paper gives that quasi-theory a systematic review by examining the central terms of reference, argument and examples of ‘death denial’ in the literature. The main arguments and examples of this thesis, that we are a ‘death-denying’ society, are evaluated according to their sociological content. Subsequently, the ability of the thesis to explain the principle areas of our death related behaviour as discussed by it, has been assessed. This paper argues that Western societies are not ‘death-denying’ by any of the major criteria posed in the literature on the subject. To say that our contemporary societies are ‘death-denying’ has no theoretical or practical explanatory value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-721
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes

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